- Title: Yanomami shaman sees tough times ahead for Brazil's indigenous people
- Date: 31st August 2021
- Summary: NEAR AUARIS, RORAIMA STATE, BRAZIL (FILE - JUNE 30, 2020) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF AERIAL SHOTS OF AMAZON RAINFOREST
- Embargoed: 14th September 2021 01:54
- Keywords: Davi Kopenawa Jair Bolsonaro Yanomami indigenous
- Location: NEAR AUARIS, RORAIMA STATE / BRASILIA, BRASIL
- City: NEAR AUARIS, RORAIMA STATE / BRASILIA, BRASIL
- Country: Brazil
- Topics: Crime/Law/Justice,Judicial Process/Court Cases/Court Decisions,South America / Central America
- Reuters ID: LVA005ESM0UH3
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Shaman Davi Kopenawa, chief of the Yanomami people who live on Brazil's largest indigenous reservation the size of Portugal, warns that far-right President Jair Bolsonaro wants to reduce their protected lands and allow in commercial mining.
Kopenawa said illegal gold miners, emboldened by Bolsonaro's anti-indigenous rhetoric, are invading his people's ancestral lands on the border with Venezuela in growing numbers and are using automatic weapons to intimidate the Yanomami.
In the past, wildcat miners brought influenza and malaria that killed hundreds of Yanomami, but today the danger is the spread of COVID-19 that has taken 9 of their people so far.
On Wednesday, the top court will discuss a deadline adopted by Brazilian governments since 2016 that indigenous land rights only be recognized if native communities were living on them at the time Brazil's constitution was ratified in 1988.
The ruling will affect 230 pending land claims, many of which offer a bulwark against deforestation in the Amazon. A defeat in court for the indigenous people would set a precedent for the rollback of native rights advocated by Bolsonaro and backed by powerful farming interests.
Kopenawa says the Yanomami territory was registered and signed by the federal government in 1992.
"He (Bolsonaro) says he needs to reduce the Yanomami territory because there is too much land and very few indigenous people," the 66-year-old shaman said in an interview in Brasilia's city park.
He said vaccination has advanced and is saving lives of his people who have grown in numbers to 29,000 from 26,800 in 2018.
They live in 360 villages spaced out over the 96,650 square kilometers (24 million acres) of their reservation that stretches from northern Brazilian savannah to Amazon rainforest.
He wore a headdress of scarlet macaw feathers.
Mining would mean knocking down trees to open roads and bring in heavy machinery that will "scrape the Earth to make holes and extract precious stones, gold, diamonds, niobium and uranium."
Bolsonaro has repeatedly stated that indigenous people make up less than 1% of Brazilians and live on more than 13% of the country's territory, sitting of mineral riches that need to be developed.
Illegal miners are swarming into the Yanomami reservation in motor boats coming up the rivers or by planes landing on clandestine airstrips in the forest.
A wave of invasions in the 1980s brought miners offering gifts of machetes, hammocks, clothes, soap and even guns and liquor to befriend the Yanomami, Kopenawa said. They chased the women and spread killer illnesses such as influenza and malaria.
Today the danger is the spread of COVID-19, he said. After international criticism that Brazil's indigenous people were been left to the mercy of the virus, the government began to vaccinate communities.
An equally dangerous enemy is the mercury used by miners to separate gold from the earth. The toxic liquid metal is polluting rivers and poisoning the fish that the Yanomami and other indigenous people rely on for their diet.
"I will keep on fighting for the future of the Yanomami people," he said.
(Production: Pablo Garcia, Amanda Perobelli, Nina Lopez)
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